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Eric Uhlfelder



Gerardo Rodriguez. Photo by Ashley Garrett Photography.

Written by Barbara Hammond and directed by Shana Cooper
The Coop
September 27 through November 10
Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue
Reviewed by Eric Uhlfelder
Running Time: 1.45 hours

It’s typically not the critic’s role to suggest what a play could be. But stay with me for a moment, for when telling any kind of extreme story, the fewer words the better. Let the atmosphere and actors’ expressions and movement take more of a lead.

Such an approach may have enhanced Terra Firma—a post-apocalyptic tale of life—if you can call it that—on a steel platform in the middle of the sea.

T. Ryder Smith, John Keating, Tom O'Keefe, and Daniel Molina. Photo by Ashley Garrett Photography.

Inspired by climate change and increasing magnitude of man-made and natural disasters, along with an actual anti-aircraft platform built 12 miles off the English coast (known as Sealand), playwright Barbara Hammond sees Terra Firma as a metaphor for the human predicament.

“The worse things get for the few habitants of Terra Firm,” Hammond explains, “the more dire the forecast, the more they double down in their beliefs, their delusions, and their pride.”

Sounds promising, especially with a cast led by the Andrus Nichols—who first came to my attention 5 years ago in her former company’s extraordinary production of Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. Terra Firma is Nichol’s debut work as artistic director of her new troupe—The Coop.

Andrus Nichols. Photo by Ashley Garrett Photography.

Kudos to Andrew Boyce, the set designer, for the pieces he put in place, that could’ve served for a more understated production, including a full-scale panoramic seascape that wraps around the stage. This gallery-quality image is stunning, especially at dusk when it evokes a wonderful nocturne.

There are the realistic sounds of the sea and actual water splashing upon the platform, along with sea mines mysteriously exploding, followed by a complete blackout. All truly moving stuff.

No doubt this desperate search for security and independence have the makings of a compelling evening.

The problem is the play seems to cross the bleakness of The Road Warrior with the wackiness of The Marx Brother’s Duck Soup. “Hail Freedonia”… for those old enough to recall the screwball comedy.

It’s not easy to task comic relief with End of Days. The audience may not know whether to smile or grimace when they see two locals capture an itinerant fisherman who made the mistake of sailing too close to Terra Firma, when the Queen shares her preamble to a new constitution she’s composing, when the citizens proudly sing their national anthem, or when a diplomat, who looks like he barely survived a broadside, comes aboard to save the fisherman/hostage only to end up duking it out with him.

Fewer, more incisive words may have allowed the audience to be more moved by platform living in a lost world, perhaps allowing comic relief to flow more naturally from the absurd existence in which the cast finds itself living. Think Tom Hanks in Castaway.

The cast is certainly up to the task of a more nuanced production, from Gerardo Rodriquez’s husband to Nichols’ Queen, their son (Daniel Molina), the multi-tasking citizen (John Keating), the hostage (Tom O’Keefe), and the diplomat (T. Ryder Smith).

Nichols describes her artistic ambitions to craft “plays that resonate with timeless themes and universal truths.” I have no doubt she will deliver such productions.

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